When I reviewed Southern Bastards, Vol. 1 for Nerdophiles a few months back, I remarked that while I did enjoy the book, it had a few of the crime tropes that I didn’t personally enjoy at work. Not that the journey of Earl Tubb wasn’t worth reading. I just became more interested in the details of his journey
Weirdly enough, this comic about the dark and humid underbelly of the deep south gets really interesting once Earl Tubb’s journey ends.
The first volume “Here Was A Man” ends with Tubb being beaten to death outside of Boss BBQ by Coach Euless Boss, the mysterious antagonist of the first arc. The second volume “Gridiron” makes that murderer the protagonist as we learn about Boss’s backstory and what exactly he did to run Craw County.
And I’ll be damned if Jason Aaron and Jason Latour didn’t make me feel for the old bastard.
The closest thing I can compare the arc of Euless Boss from worst prospect for the Running Rebs to the most powerful man in Craw County in recent memory is the portrayal of Wilson Fisk on Daredevil. However, where Fisk believes that he is doing the right thing, Boss knows he’s not a good man and wants everyone to remember that fact. He’s just not as low as the hole he crawled out from to get to where he is. That’s honestly what makes him such an interesting POV character for this arc though. He didn’t do what he did to “better” Craw County. He did it to prove that he wasn’t the useless man his father was.
The other character we get to know in this arc is the Rebs’ defensive coordinator Big. An elderly and blind black man that helped Boss become the football star that he was, Big is the kind of character that would often get shunted to the Magical Negro role with a lesser creative team. However, Big is such an interesting balance to Boss. He’s a jerk in some aspects, but he’s the only person who really treats Boss with any respect in the beginning and becomes something of a father figure to him as the story progresses. This is kind of a big deal because being set in the late 60s/early 70s in the deep South, you can imagine that’s not exactly something that would be taken positively and Aaron and Latour don’t skate around that fact. By the end, Big might be the only person who is willing to call Boss out on his actions, which makes the ending of his story even more tragic.
Along with the writing, Latour’s art feels just as humid and sticky as an Alabama summer. Especially with the flashbacks being washed in red, the book has a hot and muggy feel that actually serves it well. Even though the volume only collects four issues, that pace moves well enough that I didn’t feel like I rushed through it, but it didn’t feel like I was getting slowed down by it at any point either. Like any good Southern tale, it takes it’s time to get to where it’s going, but you’re certainly not going to be bored along the way.
Once again, my main complaint about this book is that there’s not enough women characters that exist in the world of Craw County. However, with a look at the bigger world Boss is a part of and the formal introduction of a major figure in Earl Tubb’s life at the end of the book, this looks to be changing soon as the book progresses into the third arc known as “Homecoming.”
If you’re a fan of crime books or books about Southern culture, I can’t recommend Southern Bastards enough, especially as we progress past the first volume. It’s certainly not an easy read with the violence and the racial issues that play a part in this volume, but it isn’t trying to be. It’s brutal, raw, and hot. It’s everything you love and hate about Southern culture wrapped into one book.